I remember many moons ago when the likes of Amazon first started, someone commenting to me that they didn’t know how online bookselling could compete with the experience of browsing in a store or in the library. I think she was concerned about the loss of serendipity, the loss of the treasure hunting aspect of book browsing. And I know what she meant, even though I didn’t share her view. A meander in a good bookshop is one of life’s great pleasures. And you never know what you might bump into – a novel you’ve been searching for for years, a brand new book that you’ve never heard of, an unfamiliar work by a beloved author, enticing works by unknown authors. But I don’t find most of my books that way these days. And I very rarely just wander round the library any more. I go straight to the hold shelf of my local library to collect my books, check them out, and leave.
But serendipity still happens. It just happens in different places. I do most of my browsing online. I read writers’ and readers’ blogs and check out their recommendations. I read the emails sent to me by Amazon and the Book Depository and Kobobooks and find all kinds of things. I check out what Amazon thinks I might like based on my purchases. I read the book pages of newspapers like The Guardian. And it’s incredibly effective. I have so much more information now than I used to. I’m reading a lot more authors who are new to me, and I’m reading a whole lot more new books. So far this year, I’ve only reread two books. Pre-internet, as much as 50% of my reading in a given year might have been rereads because I was stuck for new things. I love living in the future!